Pottery & Porcelain

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J. and E. Norton, Bennington, Vermont stoneware [salt-glazed pottery] jug with double pheasantsOne of the most iconic objects from 18th- and 19th-century is stoneware, particularly pieces with cobalt decoration, and few people did cobalt-decorated salt-glazed stoneware pottery better than the Norton family of Vermont.

The Norton pottery dynasty actually predates Vermont’s statehood, founded as it was by Captain John Norton in 1785, although stoneware was not what was initially manufactured. Unmarked redware pieces were the earliest offerings and salt-glazed stoneware soon followed, with utilitarian wares being offered throughout the region. The stoneware pieces from this period were marked “Bennington Factory,” and while the occasional piece seems to have had some simple incised or cobalt decoration, most pieces were just “decorated” with a cobalt script number, if at all.

By 1812, Luman Norton, Captain Norton’s oldest son, joined the business and in 1823, Captain Norton had left the company in the hands of Luman and his brother John. Pieces with “L. Norton & Co.” date from the brothers’ era, an era that was short-lived as Luman was in business by himself by 1828, when he marked pieces simply, “L. Norton.”

Julius Norton, Luman’s son, would join his father in business in 1833, a fact reflected in the mark, “L. Norton & Son,” which was used until Luman’s retirement in 1841, at which point Julius managed the pottery solo under “Julius Norton.”

Four years later, in 1845, Julius Norton took a partner, his brother-in-law, Christopher Fenton, but again, the partnership of “Norton & Fenton” was short-lived, lasting only two years until 1847, when Fenton left and Julius again operated as “Julius Norton” until the end of the decade.

The 1850s ushered in a new partnership and what would be the pottery’s golden age. Edward Norton, a cousin, began to work with Julius in the management of the firm, now marking wares as “J. & E. Norton.” It was during this period that the detailed cobalt decorations Norton became known for, the ones often seen as most desirable among collectors today, were produced, particularly pieces with deer, elaborate birds of various kinds, and scenes with buildings like schoolhouses. (Like the impressive example pictured above.)

The firm changed structure – and marks – again in 1859, when Julius’s son Luman Preston Norton came on board, an era in which the pieces produced were marked “J. Norton & Co.,” but in 1861, Julius died and Luman Preston Norton and Edward Norton continued working as “E. & L.P. Norton,” in a partnership that would prove to be one of the most stable in Norton history.

By 1881, twenty years later, however, perhaps Luman realized that stoneware’s role in the marketplace was dwindling, but whatever the reason, he left the pottery and Edward Norton continued work as “E. Norton & Co.” for another two years before selling half of the business to C.W. Thatcher of Bennington, the first “non-family” owner the business had had in nearly a century. Edward Norton died two years after this in 1885, at which point his son Edward Lincoln Norton took over his portion of the business. From 1883 on, pieces were manufactured by “The Edw’d Norton Co.,” but the company continued to decline. Efforts were made to diversify and for a time, the firm sold glass and other forms of pottery wholesale, but the heart of the business, the stoneware manufacturing, continued to decline steadily. By the time of Edward Lincoln Norton’s death in 1894, stoneware production had ceased and while C.W. Thatcher would carry on selling similar wares into the 20th century, the Norton family dynasty had ended.

Norton pottery pieces remain popular with stoneware collectors today, and unlike some potteries where price is driven by the rarity or unusual nature of the form, since the majority of Norton wares were traditional utilitarian objects, value is predicated on the quality and subject matter of the decoration. Pieces with elaborate, intricate decoration command strong prices, and the strongest Norton prices are reserved for pieces with atypical subject matter: houses, horses, and less frequently seen birds like peacocks, pheasants, and hawks.

Norton Pottery Marks:

L. Norton (1828-1833)
L. Norton & Son (1833-1841)
Julius Norton (1841-1850)
Norton & Fenton (1845-1847)
J. & E. Norton (1850-1859)
J. Norton & Co. (1859-1861)
E. & L.P. Norton (1861-1881)
E. Norton & Co. (1881-1885)
The EDW’D Norton Co. (1885-1894)

An early 19th century historical blue Staffordshire transferware decorated soup tureen and undertray, the cover and undertray with a view of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, Connecticut and the tureen with a view of the Boston Almshouse.Traditionally, porcelain wares were handpainted, giving them an expensive look and price tag, but in the mid-18th century, a factory in Worcester, England began using a process that allowed them to print designs on porcelain bodies, thereby making “the look available for less.” By inking a copper plate, transferring the design to a sheet of tissue paper and then firing the piece to fuse the ink to the body, it was possible to transfer any design to porcelain pieces and the growing middle class snapped up the new affordable option.

Early offerings mimicked the subject matter of the Chinese handpainted pieces that inspired them, but by the early 19th century, British factories were exporting a great deal of transferware material to the American market, pandering shamelessly with designs featuring famous Americans (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) along with quintessential American scenes of the landscape and landmark events, including views of cities and important public buildings. (The piece pictured here shows the Boston Almshouse.)

Today, collectors chase these pieces, particularly those with historical subject matter or landscapes. From the Battery in Charleston to the Catskill Mountains, from the landing at Plymouth to the landing of Lafayette, the glimpses these offer of American life are wonderfully detailed and prized. So there’s no doubt they’ll be watching along with us today when Pook & Pook sells the Goldberg & Brown collection of historical blue Staffordshire!

Salt-glazed railroad engineer presentation pig flask [bottle] by Anna Pottery [Cornwall and Wallace Kirkpatrick, Anna, Illinois], dated 1882Perhaps one of the most iconic Midwestern objects is an Anna Pottery railroad pig flask.  Yep, just as strange and quirky as it sounds, and so were many of the things produced by the Kirkpatrick brothers, Cornwall and Wallace, from 1859 to 1896.  Both brothers apprenticed to their father, Andrew, a potter, before landing in Anna, Illinois, where they started their pottery.  While they’re mostly known today for their unusual objects like their “snake jugs” and the aforementioned pig flasks (one is pictured above), the pottery actually manufactured a great deal of utilitarian wares – crocks, jugs, flowerpots, pipes.  As early as 1860, the pottery’s eleven employees produced a total output capable of containing 800,000 gallons!

A little investigation of the brothers’ history indicates they were just as original.  Cornwall became Anna’s first mayor and supported the temperance movement, not necessarily out of any real aversion to alcohol, but because, as a business man, it was more profitable to cater to the prevailing local opinion, which was a conservative one.  Meanwhile, Wallace, who ventured to California for a time as part of the Gold Rush, was fascinated with snakes, collecting live ones and displaying them at fairs.  The pottery’s snake jugs were, obviously, one of his specialties.  Some of the brothers’ pieces are just whimsical, while others carry built-in commentary about temperance, the economy (railroad pig flask), and politics.  The story of their pottery captures the very essence of the Midwest: quirky newcomers creating prosperity for themselves in a booming economy driven by agriculture and railroads on a whole new scale!

Hull pottery Little Red Riding Hood cookie jarHull Pottery might be best known for the cheerful and utilitarian Little Red Riding Hood design pictured here, which comes in so many forms, from teapots to shaker sets.  Prices for Red Riding Hood can be steep, but collectors have so much more to choose from, thanks to the prolific nature of the company kilns!

In reality, Red Riding Hood didn’t come along until Hull had already achieved success from meeting the commercial supply and demand of florists for vases.  Early products, inspired simply by a wide variety of blossoms, are still popular today, and with pattern choices like Calla Lily, Dogwood, Magnolia, Orchid and Poppy in soft retro pastels, collectors can create their own gardens or simply devote themselves to one favorite design.  Still, it’s worth noting that after a flood destroyed all the kilns of the Ohio-based pottery, the Hull Pottery took advantage of a fresh start to give a more modern look to their product lines, introducing theme-inspired designs like Ebb Tide, Serenade, Fantasy and Woodland.  With Hull’s trend for dramatic forms and affordable prices, whether you own one piece or a hundred, you’re certain to have a colorful addition to your collection!

Monumental stoneware pottery moon vase or pot by Toshiko Takaezu

In my life I see no difference between making pots, cooking, and growing vegetables. They are all so related. However there is a need for me to work in clay. It is so gratifying and I get so much joy from it, and it gives me many answers in my life.

Born in Hawaii to Japanese immigrants, Toshiko Takaezu studied at the University of Hawaii and, from 1951 to 1954, at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. It was there that she met her mentor, Finnish ceramist Maija Grotell. Grotell inspired Takaezu to abandon functional ceramics and, instead, embrace ceramics as art. Into this art, she incorporated a strong Japanese aesthetic, as well as a Buddhist influence that arose from time spent at a Zen monastery in the 1950s.

Takaezu’s commitment to ceramics-as-art was solidified when she developed closed forms, most notably the moon pot, that had only very tiny openings, or sometimes no openings at all. She worked in both stoneware and porcelain, and was able to utilize these simple forms, sometimes short and squat, sometimes tall and cylindrical, to experiment with glazes in a wide variety of colors and application techniques. Later in her career, she turned away from her potter’s wheel to build pieces by hand, often to grand sizes. Although she viewed her work as a kind of poetry in clay, she also claimed it was an integral part of life for her, no different than cooking (and in fact, she used her kiln to prepare food).

Her devotion to teaching was a strong as her devotion to her art. Takaezu taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and for twenty-five years, at Princeton University, where she helped develop their visual arts program. She also took on apprentices regularly throughout her career.

Toshiko Takaezu was the recipient of numerous awards during her lifetime, including the designation as Hawaii Living Treasure, and her works are in the collections of dozens of museums across the country.

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